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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IX. From Steele and Addison to Pope and Swift.

IV. Swift

§ 14. His despondency and death

Swift was now a popular hero in Ireland, and there had been some hope that, during his visits to London, he would obtain preferment in England; but none was given him. In Ireland, he found the people would not do anything to help themselves. His growing misanthropy was shown in the terrible satire called A Modest Proposal for preventing the children of poor people from being a burden to their parents or the country. Ireland, he said, was a mass of beggars, thieves, oppressors, fools and knaves; but he must be content to die there: with such a people, it was better to die than live. Elsewhere, he compared Ireland to a coalpit: a man who had been bred in a pit might live there all his life contented; but, if sent back to it after a few months in the open air, he could not be contented. Yet, notwithstanding his feelings, Swift did his work at St. Patrick’s efficiently, and improved the lot of many by his charity. To Mrs. Dingley, he gave an annuity of fifty guineas a year, allowing her to believe that the money came from a fund of which he was trustee. He had various friends with whom, in his later years, he bandied riddles and other trifles; but, from time to time, he still produced admirable pieces, such as A Complete Collection of genteel and ingenious Conversation, Directions to Servants, On Poetry: a Rhapsody and The Legion Club. Gradually, his correspondence with friends in England fell off. In 1738, he wrote to Edward Harley, earl of Oxford:

  • I am now good for nothing, very deaf, very old, and very much out of favour with those in power. My dear lord, I have a thousand things to say, but I can remember none of them.
  • And, in 1740, he wrote to his cousin, Mrs. Whiteway,
  • I have been very miserable all night, and to-day extremely deaf and full of pain. I am so stupid and confounded that I cannot express the mortification I am under both in body and mind. All I can say is, that I am not in torture: but I daily and hourly expect it. I hardly understand one word I write. I am sure my days will be very few, few and miserable they must be.
  • The brain trouble, which had threatened him all his life, became worse, and there were violent fits of temper, with considerable physical pain. In 1742, it was necessary to appoint guardians, and Swift fell into a condition of dementia. The end came, at last, on 7 October, 1745. He left his fortune to found a hospital for idiots and lunatics, and was interred at St. Patrick’s by the side of Stella. In an epitaph which he wrote for himself, he said he was Ubi saeva indignatio cor ulterius lacerare nequit.